Manic Movie Magic: Star Trek (2009) vs. Wrath of Khan

It’s no secret, or surprise, to anyone that I am a second-generation Trekkie. Both of my parents love the show, and the highlight of my summer vacation is re-watching all six of the original series movies with my dad. Star Trek one of the most iconic sci-fi franchises in history, rivaled only by Star Wars.

So when J.J. Abrams, a man whose at the time was only known for the confusing TV show Lost and shaky-cam-of-death Cloverfield, I wasn’t sure how to feel about it. Luckily, Abrams hit the mark, and inspired a whole new generation of Trekkie awesome.

But how does it compare to the original series? Is it better or worse? In order to discuss this properly, we’re going to have to compare it to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

Welcome, readers, to the first ever Manic Movie Magic: Smack-Down Edition! Star Trek (2009) vs. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Some of you might be wondering why I didn’t compare Star Trek to Star Trek: The Motion Picture. While the film as some charm, it’s pretty bad, and I wanted to compare two films that were generally regarded well by fans.

It’s like that one family reunion that everyone agreed, for your aunt Judy’s sake, never to speak of again.

For this Smack-Down Edition, I’m going to compare the film’s main aspects to see both if Abrams film is a worthy film of the Star Trek franchise, and how it compares to Wrath of Khan.

The Crew

The crew in both films are essentially the same – Kirk, Spock, Bones, Sulu, Chekov, Uhura and Scottie. But in the Abrams film, we meet them before they all before they become the amazing space-exploring team we all love. And my God, are they young compared to the other film. They’re just starting out, straight from the academy, which is both interesting and little weird to look at.

SO YOUNG AND PRETTY! MY EEEYYYYEEESSSS!

In Star Trek II, we already know the dynamic of the crew, as well as the actors portraying them, veterans at fake-working the controls. It goes without saying all the actors play their parts to perfection, mixing comedy with drama, and even Shatner seems to be less hammy than usual. Also, Kirstie Allie is in here, when she was less of a nobody than she is now.

I’m going to be honest here – I like the Abrams cast. There are some differences in how the characters are played and their relationships to one another, but at the very heart of the matter, the characters are the same. Kirk’s arrogant wisdom, Spock’s inner strength, Uhura’s tough but kind attitude, Sulu’s no-nonsense stoicness, Bones’ biting whit, and even Scottie’s jovial-ness.  All there, and I love it…except Chekov, because as in the original series, he got the shaft in the character development department, so hopefully we’ll be able to see more of him in the sequel.

The Story

Wrath of Khan, released in 1982, essentially follows the (almost all) original crew getting back on the Enterprise to check out how the new officers are doing, and take the ship out for a little test run. Meanwhile, Chekov is on a desert planet, trying to see if it’s a suitable environment for the Genesis project – which can create a whole new world off the basis of an old one. However, this planet has Khan on it, and he’s kind of mad about being left to die on this sand-pit hell. He takes over the ship, and tries to kill the Enterprise. I’m giving you the cliff-notes because this movie is so fantastic, you need to watch if you haven’t already. You don’t even need to know that much about Star Trek, just go find it on Netflix. Also, spoiler – some important dies.

“Play him off, Mr. Scottie. Play him off.”

In the Abram’s film, we see most of the crew starting in their Star Fleet Academy years, and finally get to see Kirk’s infamous passing of the Kobayashi Maru test, something which is discussed a lot in the original series, but is shown for the first time ever. A huge disturbance in the force (pun totally intended) causes everyone to be assigned to ships. Nero, a Romulan, has decided to destroy the planet Vulcan, because Romulus was destroyed…except it wasn’t. Vulcan is destroyed, and Spock is heartbroken.  The whole Romulus being there but also being “gone” is because Nero is from an alternate dimension, where the original-series universe exists. Again, not giving away the ending, so you’ll have to watch to see how it ends.

I feel Wrath of Khan has a tighter, less contrived plot than Star Trek, but both are equally entertaining and that helps distract from the little plot holes here and there.

The Villian

There is no question. Khan wins hands down. First of all, it is Richardo Montalban. I don’t even need another argument – he’s just made of pure awesome.

Pictured above: Awesome incarnate.

Second, Khan’s motive for revenge is more convincing than Nero’s. Yes, Nero’s planet gets destroyed due to a miscalculation, and everyone he love dies, including his wife. So, what does he do? Fly into a mysterious portal, and destroys Vulcan…and wants to take down the Federation because they didn’t help. It just seems so cliché and over the top, that it just seems kind of strange that this is the reaction he has. Why go after the entire Federation? They were coming to help you! It’s not their fault that giant masses of gas are unpredictable.

Khan, on the other hand, has a reason to be angry with the Federation. He gets left on what he thinks is going to a lush, fertile planet but turns out to be a desolate wasteland. He watches members of his crew die horribly and no one ever goes to check on him, leaving them all to rot on this hell-of a-planet for several years before anyone even lands. That, to me, is a much better motive for revenge. And, in fact, he immediately goes after the Kirk, and by association, the Federation because they actually were the cause of the events which drove him insane.  He has time to be filled with hate and rage, and he takes it out on the right people.

The Cinematography

Both of these films represent the ideals of technology, so when you look at the interior of the ships, you see what people expected out of space travel. So the iPod-esque aesthetic of the Abrams, while glaring, is how our technology looks like right now – and it’s super sterile and the weird light glares can be annoying. Of course, the Abrams film as better special effects that Star Trek II, but the older film does still have some impressive little tricks and details on its side. Ultimately, I think they both look amazing, with wonderful full orchestra score to back up all the epic action.

The Winner

Both of these films are fabulous – well made, well acted films which have their good and bad points. These films are made in two different eras, and their view on technology and space are very different. Abrams does a fantastic job bringing the old characters we loved from the original and deserves to be praised by fans not destroying the source material and keeping the original and reboot universe existent and canonical. 

The winner, and still (by me) considered the best of the Star Trek films with the original characters is Wrath of Khan. It’s well made, it’s got a stellar cast, and it’s got a lot of heart, and if you haven’t seen it yet, what are you still doing here? GO WATCH IT!

Star Trek (2009)

Rating: ★★★½☆

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Rating: ★★★★☆

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Starshine5050

As just a regular, hard-working work, often-stressing, procrastination-mastering history and journalism student, I often turn to the silver and small screens for relief, even though I'm only an average cinema-and-television loving viewer, commenting on what, and does not, makes good entertainment. I love horror everything - book, TV shows, games, movies - even though they frighten me terribly. I'm a long time believer of the old saying "When life gives you lemons, don't take life's lemons! Give the lemons back!" So, onward I go, returning lemons and logging an unhealthy amount of screen time for your enjoyment. So please be sure to read my stuff and let me know what you think, I'm alway looking to improve and be the best, most cynical critic I can be!

Latest posts by Starshine5050 (see all)

Starshine5050

As just a regular, hard-working work, often-stressing, procrastination-mastering history and journalism student, I often turn to the silver and small screens for relief, even though I'm only an average cinema-and-television loving viewer, commenting on what, and does not, makes good entertainment. I love horror everything - book, TV shows, games, movies - even though they frighten me terribly. I'm a long time believer of the old saying "When life gives you lemons, don't take life's lemons! Give the lemons back!" So, onward I go, returning lemons and logging an unhealthy amount of screen time for your enjoyment. So please be sure to read my stuff and let me know what you think, I'm alway looking to improve and be the best, most cynical critic I can be!

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